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Get to Know the Norwegian Lundehund: The Rarest AKC Breed of Them All

This six-toed, puffin-catching dog is one of the oddest breeds in the world, and one of the most endangered.

Caroline Coile  |  Mar 16th 2015


He’s the rarest AKC dog breed, ranked 175th out of 175 in AKC’s 2013 breed popularity rankings. And he is perhaps the strangest of any breed. Not only does he have extra toes, but he’s the world’s most flexible dog. These traits have helped the Lundehund perform a dangerous job for hundreds of years.

More interesting things about the Lundehund

  • Lundehund means “puffin dog” in Norwegian.
  • The Lundehund comes from Norway’s Lofoten Islands, where puffin birds (“lundes”) nest in narrow caves and tunnels in the islands’ cliffs. Only the Lundehund could climb the cliffs and squeeze deep into the twisting tunnels to catch these birds. A good Lundehund could catch 30 puffins a night during their nesting season, supplying the village with tasty meat and valuable down feathers. Lundehunds performed this task at least since the 14th century.

  • Each foot has at least six toes. The rear feet have elongated foot pads. This helps the dog climb rocky cliffs.
  • The neck is highly flexible, allowing the head to bend straight backward to touch the spine. This lets the dog turn around in narrow puffin bird caves.

  • The shoulders are flexible enough so the front legs can extend flat to the side, like a person can. This helps the dog hug the cliffs.
  • The ear flaps close and fold forward or backward to block the ear openings. This protects them from debris.
  • He is a member of the Spitz family, which have in common a stand-off coat, small pointed ears, wedge-shaped head, and curled tail carried over the back. However, the Lundehund is more slightly built than most other Spitz breeds.
  • He may be confused with the Norwegian Buhund, but the Lundehund is smaller and longer bodied — and has a lot more toes!

  • By the early 1900s, most puffins were being caught with nets, not dogs. The dogs, neglected and hungry, attacked the sheep, and subsequently had a bounty put on them. Distemper, a dog tax, and crosses with other breeds rendered the pure Lundehund almost extinct. Hearing of this rare breed, a dog enthusiast tracked down 50 Lundehunds on a secluded island. In 1939, four Lundehunds were exported; in 1941 a distemper outbreak killed all but one of the remaining Lundehunds. Two pregnant females and two puppies, descendants of the dogs earlier exported, were sent back to repopulate the island.
  • Over the next years Lundehunds teetered on extinction. In the 1960s interest in the breed grew with a breed club, and numbers grew under the guidance of a geneticist who devised a breeding scheme to repopulate the breed. The first Lundehund came to Canada in 1960, and to America in 1987.

  • It became a regular AKC Non-Sporting group breed in 2010.
  • No Lundehund has yet won a Best in Show at any show.
  • Lundehunds are now adjusting to life as primarily companions. They are more primitive in their behavior than many breeds. They are very inquisitive and independent, and can climb and tunnel, so few things are out of their reach. They can be hard to housetrain.
  • Every Lundehund probably has Lundehund syndrome, a collection of potentially serious gastrointestinal problems, though some show no signs.

  • No celebrities we know of own a Lundehund.
  • Their small numbers, lack of a job, primitive temperament, and potential health problems make the Lundehund one of the breeds most in danger of extinction.

Do you own a Norwegian Lundehund? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.